James Traub is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, where he has worked since 1998. From 1994 to 1997, he was a staff writer for The New Yorker. He has also written for The New York Review of Books, Foreign Affairs, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic and elsewhere. His articles have been widely reprinted and anthologized. He has written extensively about international affairs and especially the United Nations.
In recent years, he has reported from Iran, Iraq, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Vietnam, India, Kosovo and Haiti. He has also written often about national politics and urban affairs, including education, immigration, race, poverty and crime.
His books include, The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power; The Devil's Playground: A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square; City On A Hill, a book on open admissions at City College; and The Freedom Agenda: Why America Must Spread Democracy (Just Not the Way George Bush Did). He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Question: What are the great success stories of nation building?
Jim Traub: Well, obviously, the great story is the rebuilding of Germany and Japan after World War II. Now, because those countries are such core members of the democratic world, it’s not easy to remember that neither one had a democratic past. Germany had the very brief lived Weimar Republic. Japan had no real experience with democracy at all. So, it was a no sense predetermined that either one would become a democracy but that was the explicit goal of American policy. It was a policy that was willing to spend money, be patient, seek deep changes, not just in the political structure, in many cases, in the economic structure as well, and actually faster than people thought within 5, 6, 7, 8 years. Those countries were clearly functioning democracies the United States was able to [weave] faster than they thought. So, those were examples where a really massive effort at state building took place, but it is also important to say they took place in countries which, although, they didn’t have a democratic tradition, they were middle class countries with the tradition of liberal institutions. And so, it was also for all the difficulties, a lot easier than the kinds of things that the Bush Administration undertook in the Middle East or even the sorts of nation building activities we hope to engage in weak states in Africa, for example.